Thanks to a generous friend, my husband and I recently enjoyed an evening piano concert at the brand new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills that opened in late 2013; it is a beautiful venue, built around re-purposing the historic post office with two performance spaces, a lovely outdoor garden area complete with water sculptures and terraced plants and blooming flowers.
Another feature that many people haven’t yet noticed is the inclusion of a “Quiet Room” as part of the 500-seat Bram Goldsmith Theater. This is an enclosed space in the back of the rear orchestra level that has clear, unobstructed sightlines of the stage and the audio from the performance is piped in. People sitting in the soundproof Quiet Room can talk, cough, or even sing and no one else in the audience can hear them! An usher told me that older patrons who have a persistent cough have used it but it is also available for children and teens with autism and other special needs.
Joel Hile, Associate Director of Marketing & Communications at The Wallis, said that the center was designed to be a “space for everyone” and has multiple accommodations for persons with different disabilities including the Quiet Room. In addition, the Bram Goldsmith Theater is equipped with a state-of the-art induction loop hearing system so that “audience members with cochlear implants or telecoil-equipped hearing aids are able to fully enjoy the performances without straining to hear, or missing entirely, the whispers, hushed voices, and other soft sounds that bring depth to so many performances,” as the Visitor’s Guide states.
The inspiration for the Quiet Room came from when the Executive Director, Lou Moore, visited the Minneapolis Children’s Theater and saw their Quiet Room. And similar to that theater, the Wallis is also planning to have some future “sensory-friendly” performances for children and teens with autism where the house lights are kept partially on, the sound level is turned down, and it is okay if patrons need to get up and walk around.
These Quiet Rooms and sensory-friendly performances are a huge step forward for making the performing arts accessible to all. We can only hope that other venues will follow the lead of the Wallis and make these special needs accommodations a standard part of every venue.